After yanking YouTube TV from the Roku platform in April, Google was preparing to pull its main YouTube app from the Roku platform on Dec. 9.

software reviews, music - products, dvd - products, media streaming devices

UPDATE 12/8: Crisis averted. Roku today updated its original blog post to say that a deal has been reached. “Effective today, we have agreed to a multi-year extension with Google for YouTube and YouTube TV. This agreement represents a positive development for our shared customers, making both YouTube and YouTube TV available for all streamers on the Roku platform,” Roku says.


Original Story 10/21:If you own a Roku streaming-media player and you haven’t yet added Google’s YouTube app, now would be a good time to do it.

The Roku app for the most-viewed video site in the US will exit Roku’s platform on Dec. 9, as negotiations between Google and Roku remain at an impasse. It’s a dispute Roku warned about in a post on its corporate blog Thursday morning and in a separate notice to customers before providing additional details to me over a Zoom call hours later. 

News of the Dec. 9 deadline came in a tweet from Axios media writer Sara Fischer, who relayed Google’s response to Roku’s post. But the YouTube app on a Roku player offered viewers no heads-up on Thursday morning, and YouTube’s blog has not mentioned it since April.

The Google statement, since sent to PCMag as well with a request that it not be attributed to anybody by name, accuses Roku of “unproductive and baseless claims” without elaborating. But it confirms that existing copies of the YouTube app will keep working.

Interfering With ‘Independent Search Results’

Roku’s post notes that it prefers content partnerships “built around mutually beneficial terms”—read: revenue sharing—but says the squabble over the YouTube app isn’t about money.

“We have not asked for a single change in the financial terms of our existing agreement,” it says. “In fact, Roku does not earn a single dollar from YouTube’s ad-supported video-sharing service today, whereas Google makes hundreds of millions of dollars from the YouTube app on Roku.”

The post does, however, make two accusations of anti-competitive behavior by Google: 

“First, Google continues to interfere with Roku’s independent search results, requiring that we preference YouTube over other content providers. This is a concern shared by many companies who believe that customers deserve neutral and relevant results to their search queries. Second, Google discriminates against Roku by demanding search, voice, and data features that they do not insist on from other streaming platforms.”

No Mingling With Other Video Providers

On a Zoom call, Roku executives (who spoke on the condition they not be named) shared a screenshot of a Sept. 23, 2019 email from a Google executive (whose name was blacked out) demanding that Roku add a row of YouTube-only search results: “Voice/universal search results shown in a dedicated YT shelf and not intermixed with other video content providers.” 

Roku says this feature, which that message labeled “a must,” would require Roku to send all search queries to Google so that Google could process them and return YouTube results for Roku to display. That, in turn, could give YouTube valuable insight into Roku users’ tastes. 

During the call, the Roku executives also said YouTube demanded two further privileges in Roku’s voice search: 

  • If a Roku user had the YouTube app open and uttered a music-specific request like “Play the Beatles,” that Roku fulfill that request in YouTube Music instead of whatever music app the user had set as their default.
  • That Roku respond to a user’s voice searches for a movie by showing YouTube’s options to rent or buy them—even if the user could watch the flick for free on other services they already pay for.

This is not Roku’s first streaming spat. YouTube TV’s app vanished from its channel store in April after Roku rejected Google demands for preferential search results, access to viewer data, and upgraded processing hardware.  

The April 30 post on YouTube’s blog covering that removal said Google has “never” requested that Roku let it “access user data or interfere with search results” and described the hardware requirement as necessary to allow 4K HDR and 8K viewing on compatible TVs.

On the Zoom call, the Roku executives called that “never” statement a lie. Google has not yet responded to an email requesting a response to Roku’s new claims. 

Earlier, Charter’s Spectrum app—a cost-saving alternative to that cable operator’s rented boxes–also vanished from Roku’s Channel Store for six months until the two companies worked out a new deal that returned the app to Roku on Aug. 17.

Heading for a Breakup?

Google, meanwhile, has faced increasing accusations of anticompetitive behavior. Last October, the Department of Justice filed an antitrust suit accusing it of illegal moves to preserve its dominant share of the search market. In December, a coalition of states filed a separate suit accusing Google of anticompetitive behavior in the display-advertising market. In July, another group of states filed yet another suit alleging abusive oversight of the Android Play Store. 

Google and large technology companies in general have become increasingly unpopular among lawmakers in Washington, with legislators floating a variety of sweeping proposals to regulate social platforms. Some have called for the feds to force Google to divest YouTube, which the company bought in 2006 for what now looks like a bargain price of $1.65 billion.

Thursday, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) released a statement noting this growing unease over the power of the largest tech companies. “For too long, the big tech platforms have leveraged their power to preference their products and services over those of thousands of smaller online businesses,” the statement reads in part. “They have said ‘just trust us,’ but experience has shown that we can’t rely on these companies to act fairly in the marketplace.” 

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